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3 Ways to Make Responsible Product Policy for a Diverse World

A diverse group of people discuss global product policy in front of a laptop.
How do you ensure your product policies can stand strong in a wide range of communities and contexts? Build a team that includes experts, internal stakeholders, and partners from different parts of your business and different parts of the world. [PeopleImages / Getty]

A global product policy helps you do business responsibly in an increasingly connected world and builds trust for your products.

No matter where in the world you do business, your customers know you by your products. The rules you set regarding how they can use those products directly affects how much people trust you. If a policy loophole allows someone to use your product to cause harm, repairing that harm won’t necessarily repair the damage done to your reputation. 

Product policy — the rules that specify how your customers can and can’t apply your features, services, and technology to meet their needs — is designed to achieve two key goals: It empowers users to make the best use of product features, and it prevents harm that might come from the misuse of those features, intentional or not. Because these rules need to work in the real world, they must consider differences between places, cultures, and even laws.

For example, in the U.S. and many parts of Europe, biometric technology is often seen as invasive. In fact, Salesforce explicitly prohibits the development of our technology for facial recognition — a prominent version of biometrics — because of the potential for harmful bias. But in other parts of the world, biometrics is sometimes seen as a way to make people safer and address changes in the labor market.

Create policy that works in the real world

What’s the connection between ethical innovation, inclusion, and products? Learn more about our ethical use policy.

Why you need a global product policy 

If you show people that you’ll do the work to make your products safe, effective, and reliable for their diverse communities, you give them a reason to choose your company over more shortsighted competitors. In other words, global product policy helps you do business responsibly in an increasingly connected world. 

Such policy can also save your company money by reducing the cost — in time, labor, and lost value — of rolling back, fixing, and re-introducing a product that misses the mark on trust. Here are three tips to help you create a responsible product policy for today’s world.

1. Make sure your policy development team is diverse

How do you ensure your policies can stand strong in a wide range of communities and contexts? Build a team that includes experts, internal stakeholders, and partners from different parts of your business and different parts of the world. More diverse voices can help you find problems that might otherwise go unnoticed, or anticipate risks that aren’t obvious at first glance. Creating a dedicated group like an ethical use advisory council is one place to start.

And don’t forget customer insights. Contact the people and organizations who use a product, and work with them to craft policies around their needs and create trust-based relationships with those you serve. 

What you can do today: As a team, organization, or company, take inventory of what work you do, where it happens, and who does it. Look for gaps between the things you provide — products, services, and support — and the communities that receive your services. Find one new voice from a community not currently involved in your international product policy discussions and see how that perspective shapes your decisions. 

2. Keep history — and its impacts today — in mind 

Some communities haven’t historically been given the same opportunities to share their perspectives as others. Both ignorance and intentional discrimination shape many peoples’ experiences with organizational policy. Today, that can be expensive, but the systems and patterns of the past still play a role in the professional world. 

Because of that history, it’s important to be intentional and deliberate about examining the historical contexts in which you’re providing services, and the reality of the world we live in today.

In programming, for example, you can replace terms like “master” and “slave” with less charged terms, like “primary” and “secondary.” Although the effort involved might seem simple or superficial to some, the payoff can be huge for those affected by this language.

Navigating these kinds of changes isn’t always easy or comfortable, but you can ask specific questions to ensure you’re being intentional, such as:

  • Who is most affected by any international product policy you develop? 
  • Regardless of good intent, is there anyone who may be negatively affected by the final policy? Is there anyone who is negatively affected if you don’t implement the change? 
  • What are the unintended consequences of implementing the policies?
  • In implementing your policy, are you creating ways for historic patterns of harm to happen again — or relying on harmful assumptions that your policy may spread? 

These questions push you to deliberately consider the impact on your customers and the wider community. 

What you can do today: Invest in focus groups to start collecting in-depth feedback about your policy and its impact on local communities. This can be a great way to move from general policy considerations to specific tweaks that consider different locations and cultures. With good product policy, being in a different place doesn’t have to mean getting a less satisfying experience. 

3. Know what product policy can do — and what it can’t 

Although writing product policy can give the veneer of “doing enough,” it rarely is in the real world. When creating effective global product policy, ask the following:

  • What is the actual problem you’re trying to solve? 
  • Does a new policy most effectively solve this problem? 

Answering these questions also lets you consider whether the problem looks the same in different parts of the world. This may feel like a small exercise, but it’s the most important one — a small push that starts you off in the right direction. 

For example, imagine you’re an app maker in Germany, and you notice that your engagement — downloads, usage, and online buzz — seems pretty low in a number of African countries where you’d like to grow a wider user community.

Traditional wisdom might say you should invest in more aggressive marketing, or change your product policy to address concerns of the local communities. However, if you dig deeper, you might learn that the median cost of a gig of data in Africa is almost twice as much as in the European Union.

In other words, the high-resolution images and detailed features that attract users in Germany make your product expensive to use in Africa. So, the real solution isn’t pushing harder or adjusting policy alone. It’s creating a data-friendly version of the app that still delivers comparable results. 

In many cases like the one above, a policy isn’t the only solution to a potential problem. Instead, it helps widen your focus to include products, processes, and all the ways your organization influences the people and places it serves. 

This kind of community-focused flexibility encourages companies to learn from a product’s creators while applying that knowledge to new, diverse contexts. In turn, companies building products for a diverse world can learn and adapt based on how different communities use the tools they create, informing future international product policy choices that can:

  • drive inclusive innovation,
  • create networking opportunities, and
  • fine-tune features to perform their best in the hands of actual customers.

What you can do today: Pick a pain point in your organization, and work with your team to list different types of solutions. Some might be entirely policy-based, while others require additional research, a change to the product or service, or in-depth guides. You don’t necessarily have to implement a change here — the goal is to build a muscle for multipronged problem solving.

The best time to look at your global product policy is now 

Taking the time to explore multiple perspectives and think carefully about your approach may seem like a big investment, but you’ll end up saving time and effort. And the sooner you broaden your organization’s perspective, account for historic injustice, and coordinate your policy with other business solutions, the easier it will be to fully connect in any community. 

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Fadzai Madzingira

Fadzai is the EMEA policy lead and a director in the Office of Ethical Humane Use of Technology. She's led teams working on hate and violence policies at Meta and with public policy teams across Sub-Saharan Africa. She is passionate about building policies based in equity and protecting marginalized groups online.

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